ST. PETERSBURG — Riley Randolph stands on the mound, raising her arms far above her head before whipping a softball past another batter. Her repertoire — riseball, drop, curve and changeup — is made more effective by her velocity, which sits at about 60 mph.
The Northeast ace collects strikeouts at a dizzying pace. The hard part is obtaining wins — and playoff appearances. Randolph, a junior, still is waiting for that elusive postseason appearance. Last season, the Vikings beat Pinellas Park in 14 innings in the district quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Countryside in the semifinals.
This year, Northeast is a contender with a 13-5 record, including 5-3 in Class 7A, District 9, after beating East Lake 5-1 on Thursday.
The win moved the Vikings into second place. The top two teams earn a bye in the six-team district tournament, which starts in two weeks.
Northeast also is one win from clinching the South division in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference.
"I wouldn't say this season has been more than expected," Randolph said. "I thought we had a chance to be pretty good. It was just a matter of putting the pieces together and having the right opportunities."
The new starters, such as St. Petersburg transfer Ashley McNally and freshman leadoff hitter Janae Duty, quickly developed cohesiveness with the holdovers.
That helped the Vikings start 5-0, including big-time wins against Countryside and East Lake. The win streak was followed by three straight losses, all to district opponents.
The skid came right before Northeast played a tough stretch of games in the Palm Harbor tournament. The Vikings rebounded by going 3-1, the biggest win coming against the host Hurricanes.
"To beat Palm Harbor University was huge," Randolph said.
"They're such a good team, and that gave us so much confidence."
Since the tournament, Northeast has gone 3-1, the lone loss coming against Class 2A, No. 1 Canterbury on a walkoff homer in the seventh inning.
"We still have a young team, and we're learning," said Vikings coach Reggie Randolph, who has only two seniors on the roster. "Some of the girls came from 14-under softball, and they're still learning to play a full seven innings in a time-oriented game. But they're starting to put it together."
Reggie Randolph took over as coach two years ago.
His star player is his daughter, Riley.
But she is not the only one responsible for the turnaround.
The defense has come through with big plays such as Aja Eglton's acrobatic catch of a foul ball along the fence that got the Vikings out of a jam in Tuesday's win against Seminole.
The offense is developing some power, too. Against the Warhawks, Northeast had six extra-base hits, including a two-run homer by Relynn Capra.
"We were a little rusty on offense," Riley Randolph said.
"Now the wheels are starting to turn again. We just had to put some WD-40 on them. It's exciting to see where we've come and what we can do."
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.